UPDATE: Hey Reddit, I'm going to wrap up now. Many thanks for all the great questions!

Hi, I’m Ken Walsh. I’m the White House correspondent for U.S. News & World Report. I’ve covered Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and, today, Barack Obama. I was in the small group of reporters in Berlin when Reagan urged the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall.” I spent many days traveling the world with Bush the father, who considered himself first and foremost a foreign-policy president. I covered Clinton’s high and lows from his two campaign victories to the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

I have a new book, just published, called “Prisoners of the White House: The Isolation of America’s Presidents and the Crisis of Leadership.” It’s my sixth book: Amazon

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Comments: 175 • Responses: 10  • Date: 

80_firebird39 karma

So, which one of those presidents was the nicest?

kenwalsh87 karma

I'd say George H.W. Bush, the father. Always a gentleman and very decent to all those around him.

ThatGirlH38 karma


kenwalsh67 karma

Ronald Reagan was the most historic, partly because of his partnership with then-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. This helped end the cold war. He also took steps to make conservatism into more of a governing philosophy. Barack Obama of course is historic as the first African American president but his agenda is a work in progress.

Because of the 24-hour news cycle, social media and our polarized politics, presidents are scrutinized more than ever. Accountable? That remains to be seen.

SaveTracey34 karma

How has politics changed in the 27 years that you have been a correspondent?

kenwalsh102 karma

Nastier and more polarized on a sustained basis. More petty. More superficial. More spin and message control.

iwanttofork31 karma

What was it like being a correspondent during the 9/11 attacks?

kenwalsh65 karma

I was a "pool reporter"--one of a handful of reporters at the scene--when George W. Bush used a bullhorn to bolster the first responders and the country while he was standing on the wreckage of the terrorist attacks at Ground Zero in NYC. It was an compelling moment in history. And it seemed to be a spontaneous reaction by Bush that captured the nation's mood.

cahaseler30 karma

What are your thoughts on how the latest PRISM/NSA scandal has been reported?

How well do you think Obama will weather this latest crisis?

kenwalsh53 karma

This was based on leaks so we really don't know the full story yet. But my instinct tells me there is much more to come. As for Obama, it's really too early to tell how it will affect him. But it helps him that he seems so unflappable and reasonable. Americans like those traits at a time of crisis.

grant024 karma

Hi Ken, great to have you with us. I'm sure over the years you've had a few personal moments with some or all of the five. Can you share with us a favourite anecdote about any or all of them?

kenwalsh90 karma

Covering Bill Clinton was a roller-coaster ride. He was a very engaging and gregarious person. He would give the press corps a lot of access but sometimes would cut us off when he saw a story he didn't like. Then, his anger or annoyance would subside and he would grant us access again. I felt I got to know him well. His intellectual curiosity was amazing. During an Air Force One interview on the way home from Australia, Clinton talked about everything from the ecology of the Great Barrier Reef to the Filipino economy and how much he enjoyed holding a baby koala. All in all, a fascinating person.

kreimerd23 karma


kenwalsh48 karma

Yes, they did. By the way, some presidents make it a point to get to know the reporters who cover them and to know them as individuals. This was especially true of Bush the father and Clinton.

JezusReturns15 karma

Do the presidents change a lot over time? Because of stress, fame or any other thing?

kenwalsh39 karma

What's really striking is how presidents age. Take a look at photos of the presidents when they take office and when they leave. Those who dealt with sustained crises tend to age the most. Lincoln is the best example.

JeremyNJ198415 karma


kenwalsh33 karma

There are many reasons, including security, the enormous work load, and the fact that presidents tend to be surrounded by "idolizers" who coddle and cloister them. It's a very abnormal life they lead. I describe all this in my book, "Prisoners of the White House."

lawrnk12 karma


kenwalsh19 karma

Reagan had an amazingly extensive correspondence with everyday people throughout his presidency. He used letters as a way to stay in touch and learn what was on people's minds.